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John Gardiner: ‘Victory was a massive boost for Limerick and a defeat that will upset Clare’

The42′s hurling columnist gives his thoughts on yesterday’s big game.

Clare’s Conor Ryan dejected at the final whistle.
Clare’s Conor Ryan dejected at the final whistle.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

Updated at 06.45

IT WAS THE first big hurling championship day of the summer but the actual hurling wasn’t the major talking point yesterday in Thurles. Two red cards in a Munster championship game is going to generate plenty of talk.

I’d mixed views on them. For the first one involving Pat Donnellan, if you’re involved in a situation where you’re striking with the hand that’s holding your hurley, you’re drawing trouble on yourself. Pushing a player with the other hand doesn’t looks so bad. But once the hurley is raised, a player is in trouble.

I don’t think another sending-off means Clare are a dirty team. They’re not like the Clare team of old who had really big physical men. This team doesn’t possess that physique. They clearly put a lot of work into their tackling and maybe feel they have to be slightly more aggressive. They were unlucky with some of the sending-offs but suspensions are setbacks Clare could do without.

The second red card should never have been given. Was it a case of evening it up? Colm Lyons is a referee that goes by the letter of the law, but how often have you seen a challenge like that which happened between Seanie Tobin and Patrick O’Connor? The referee in that instance should just go over, calm the players and move the game on. A red card is a bad call.

It was an interesting game without the quality being top drawer. Both teams were looking forward to this for a long time and it finished well, with plenty of excitement in the second-half.

By their reaction afterwards, you knew this was a massive boost for Limerick and a defeat that will upset Clare. Limerick showed again that this sticks in games in Munster. They’re never short of effort, are extremely physical at the back and get the job done to secure the right result.

It was a disappointing game for Clare to lose. They’ll have been unhappy with the amount of injury-time played and I felt there should have been a couple more minutes added on. Clare matched Limerick in several different areas but still ended up defeated.

They were unlucky not to get a positive outcome, though. Clare are still a team with a lot of quality and I think they’ll go a long way in the qualifiers.

But Davy will need his team to be back to full strength. In the first-half, the way Clare set up meant you knew if was never going to be a wide open game. They had so many bodies around middle third in the first-half. That’s the way they play and it looks like they try to contain teams for 40 minutes and hope they can then cut loose to win.

Was that a gameplan adopted because of the players they were missing? Certainly, Brendan Bugler and Conor McGrath are big losses. The fellas that came in did well but they need hurlers of the calibre of Bugler and McGrath back. They’re big figures in this Clare team.

The Limerick goal was not a good one for Clare to concede. In that scenario, you want to see a defender holding off the forward allowing the goalkeeper to come, collect and clear. It didn’t happen and Graeme Mulcahy was alive to the breaking ball.

I thought that was going to be the turning point, but Aaron Cunningham had other ideas. He showed a great sidestep for the first goal and drove it really well across Barry Hennessy in the Limerick goal. For his second goal, he showed his pace and hit an absolute rocket. Cunningham’s direct running brought about the scores and gave Clare a lifeline.

Shane O’Donnell may not have scored heavily but I thought he had a fine game. He placed others for scores in the first-half and hit a really good point towards the end.

Seanie OÕBrien tackles Tony Kelly Source: Tommy Greally/INPHO

(Limerick’s Seanie O’Brien tackles Tony Kelly of Clare)

Clare didn’t get Tony Kelly into the game enough. He’s a guy that thrives on open space and I’d question why they insist on bringing so many bodies around the middle. It’s counter productive and trying to create space for players like Kelly and John Conlon would benefit Clare more.

Tony Kelly is an exceptional talent, but I think he’ll be going home frustrated tonight. He needs to be involved and have a team focused on a system that tries to get him on the ball as much as possible. I’d praise Tom Condon for the job he did on him though and Clare’s Cian Dillon also did very well in quietening Shane Dowling. Clare conceded a lot of frees and someone like Dowling will punish ill-discipline.

The start of the show was Limerick’s Cian Lynch. He was just a breath of fresh air in a game that was so rigid. He looks excellent for a guy just out of minor. He looked to me like a guy pucking around down in his local park. He was trying everything with the ball and that’s something you don’t see in a Munster championship match. He took his points well and worked fierce hard.

Limerick’s whole season changes now and their confidence will rise. They’ve beaten Tipp the last two years and will fancy playing them again. The game is on in Limerick, they’ll pack the Gaelic Grounds. Tipp will probably be favourites, but that won’t bother Limerick. They’ll know they had an element of luck today and there’s plenty scope for improvement. But that’s a good situation to be in before a Munster semi-final.

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John Gardiner

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